Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dinnertime Conversation

A lot of parents are having to answer questions that their kids are asking about what is going on in Haiti right now. It is hard to give answers that are truthful, accurate, and won't give our kids nightmares. The schools are doing a pretty good job right now fielding the initial concerns of the kids. They are also helping the kids be part of the rescue efforts by giving them opportunities to raise funds to send over to help. For my girls, that just brings more questions to their minds and so they come home and thankfully, talk to their parents.

On the TV tonight there was a telethon to raise funds for a host of different charities. We let it play in one room so we could listen, while we ate dinner together around the dinner table, like we do virtually every night. As the music drifted in, the questions started coming out. Little Heart had a lot of ideas of how to help. Her extremely generous nature showed clearly. Who is helping the sick people and the babies?  Why is it taking so long for them to get help? What more can we do besides just give money at school?

Trying to answer was both simple and complicated. Some parents might brush off the questions and keep the answers simple, but my kids never settle for the easy answers. If you cheat and hold back a bit, they know, and then they are disappointed. If you give them as much information a you have, it can overwhelm them or give them more fears and confusion than they already have. At first we tried to get them to understand what kind of a place Haiti was before the earthquake. It was very difficult to explain the sort lifestyle of the citizens of Port Au Prince lived in.  Our children have grown up in  such a state of luxury when compared to the daily life of the people of Haiti. I wanted them to understand that there are people who live a much different life and are satisfied with it.

To help them understand more fully we started at the beginning - where Haiti is located, and why the country is the poorest in world. We explained to how Haiti shares and Island with The Dominican Republic, but they are separate countries with hundreds of years of animosity in their history. That all the years of fighting and all the different factions trying to take over their country has caused the people to be without many of the things we take for granted, like police officers, fire fighters, emergency medicine, schools, and teachers. We also had to explain about how Cuba is located between us and them and how the Communist regime in Cuba has made it difficult in the past for us to directly help them out. Thankfully, I now understand that Cuba has opened its air space for medical flights going between Haiti and the US. Why Cuba and America don't get along or why it takes a catastrophe like this to convince them to take that small step of humanity is something I couldn't explain at all.

All of the girls wanted to know why we are donating money instead of gathering food and medicines to send to the people who need them. That led to a discussion on who the Red Cross is and how they use the donated money to help. Money can be used to buy and ship exactly what they need, like blankets and medicine for the sick and the right kind of food to help the hungry. Physical items would have to identified, received, and distributed and that could take much longer to get them where they need to go. We wanted to make sure that they understood that donations are going to the organizations that are there to help and not directly to Haitians themselves. 

We explained how the US is helping by sending ships that are floating hospitals and by sending doctors to help on land and troops to help clear the rubble and look for more people that might be still trapped underneath. I was happy to tell them how many other countries are working together to help and that there are many people making personal donations that are even larger than the amounts some countries have donated.. I told them that I heard The Dominican Republic was one of the first to respond and they are still helping their neighbors in spite of their history. I love that I was able to tell stories about people like the doctor from Mexico City who flew over with two suitcases full of Aspirin and Tylenol. He left his clothes and his own personal items behind so that he could take the medicines with him. We got to tell about the baby that was 12 days old and survived under the rubble of a building by herself for 8 days before being rescued.
LH wanted to know why we can't just bring them all here? So, we had to explain that there are 3 million people in the area of destruction. There is no way to get them all to the US and no where to put them once they got here. We also had to gently remind her that Haiti is their home, no matter how poor or damaged it may be. Our people have been sent there to heal and rebuild, not occupy or relocate. I needed to make them understand that just because someone lives differently, doesn't necessarily mean that they would like to live any other way. That is a choice they should make for themselves. I also wanted to impress on them the idea that no matter how close or far, regardless of how difficult or easy it would be, when people need help you give it.

Evil Genius, of course, had more practical things on her mind. First, she let me know what she thinks about how all of this happened to begin with. "Some people talk about the Science way that earthquakes happen, but I know the God way. He gets really angry and presses his fists together and CRUNCH! the earth moves around and earthquakes happen."

I have always known that she has a unique outlook on life and I feel she has a perspective that a lot of us miss. For her, there is a balance of Good and Evil that exists in the world, as far as she is concerned and God presides over all of this like a moody parent who is kind and firm but has angry fits sometimes. To a six year old, I can understand how this helps her to process the world around her and make sense of all the positive and negative that she comes into contact with.

Of course, she also had one other question before bed. I knew the others were thinking about it, but EG was the one to ask it - Do we get earthquakes here and do we need to worry about them destroying our home? "Truthfully," I told her, "we DO get earthquakes here all the time. Almost every day, in fact. But, they are all very small and they don't cause us any damage. Because we get a lot of small ones all the time, it keeps us from having to worry about really big ones happening."

That seemed to satisfy all three of them much better than I thought it would. At that point, it was hugs and kisses, our special Love Shake, and off to bed for all three of them. I have not heard a peep out of them since. The faith that they place in us sometimes brings me to tears. They go to sleep at night, perfectly confident that Mommy and Daddy will take care of anything that happens. That is one of the blessings I thank God for when I go to bed at night, myself - that my kids feel safe and secure and I am able to help them feel that way.

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